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(Pocket-lint) - When you hear the name Jeep you probably imagine a beach buggy blasting through the Californian sea-kissed sands. That's what this company was built on. But after being bought by Fiat the likes of the 2015 Jeep Renegade are redefining how we see Jeep.

The Renegade aims to offer the 4x4 experience of a smaller SUV to those who want a city car which can be taken off-road. Or, at the base model two-wheel drive end, one that looks like it can go off-road in typical crossover SUV fashion.

We've been driving the Jeep Renegade Limited 6 Speed Manual to see how it compares to its competition in the Skoda Yeti and Mini Cooper Clubman. Is this the new compact SUV on the block?

Design and build

At first glance the Jeep Renegade 2015 could be described as angular. But in keeping with the traditional Jeep design ethics that front grille and those round lights have a certain retro charm that'll grow on you. Even when compared to the more expensive Cherokee models, with more aerodynamic design, it feels more rugged.

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Key to the Renegade is its design ethos: not only does it look decent, it's made for a job and is an off-road champ. 

The plastic trim around the wheels and lower body at first appear out of place, but once you've been off-road it's clear this is a protective measure to keep the body in good condition. Something off-road fans will likely appreciate as genuinely useful and beyond a design for looks alone.

On the inside, the trim, steering wheel and seats are finished in a faux leather which appears to be high in quality. In our short time with the car it was hard to fault – but we'd imagine over time it could end up developing a few plastic cuts.

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The blend of screens and control knobs is a perfect mix of modern tech with functional buttons and wheels – ideal for quick adjustments while driving. Although throw it around the lumps and bumps too much and you'll be reaching for the big handle on the dashboard.

Off-road abilities

We first drove the base model Renegade, the 1.6 MultiJet II Diesel Manual, which was a two-wheel drive model. While this handled the wet roads and fast corners with plenty of grip and minimal swing of that fairly high roof, we suspect it wouldn't have managed so well off-road.

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Step-up the 2.0 MultiJet II Diesel 4WD Manual model, which we later got behind the wheel. It might not have had the heated seats or heated steering wheel of our on-road focused model but it feels like it's built to tackle anything.

On a sandy beach, across rocks, and on a rugged course with step climbs the 4x4 drive model handled like a pro. The transmission, clutch and differential were intelligent enough to us to leave the car in first gear without so much as a tap of clutch. The Renegade handled any obstacle and still powered on, even up slopes after taking a foot off the accelerator mid-way.

The brilliantly supportive build makes even the most unconfident driver able to hit the most challenging off-road obstacles with ease. The 198mm ground clearance allowed for deep-water crossing and some hefty shock absorption when bouncing off steep obstacles.

Dashboard smarts

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The Jeep Renegade Limited we drove was equipped with a 6.5-inch navigation-enabled infotainment system, as well as a digital screen in the head unit behind the wheel. This meant leaving the sat nav on the main screen while controlling music, viewing speed, fuel economy and more on the other. Very snazzy.

Smart lane control is another impressive feature, increasingly commonplace in a variety of cars. An icon on the dash display shows when the car is veering out of the lane, a small audible beep alerts you and the car automatically steers back into line.

But don't expect to take your hands off the wheel entirely as it's followed by an alarm noise and an alert ordering you to take the wheel. It won't pull back in once it starts drifting back over the other side after the initial correction – so no hands is impossible, which is a good thing.

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The wheel is crammed full of button controls too, including voice-activated systems. This is decent for making calls, once the Bluetooth connection to your mobile has downloaded your contacts. But other than that the voice controls are limited to controlling music input and volume – which you can do with buttons anyway.

Cruise control is also included which is great on longer motorway jaunts, which the Renegade gobbles up with aplomb.

Practical and able bodied

Why buy an non-4x4 SUV? That was our initial thought when taking out the two-wheel drive version of the Renegade. But there are benefits. For one thing, there's the space.

The rear seating and boot storage are plentiful with lots of headroom, despite the car being relatively compact in its class. We comfortably zipped about in the city without any width worries and even with a car full of 6ft-plus passengers there was room for everyone. Great for groups travelling long distances – you could even load it with luggage and bikes thanks to roof bars, so no need to worry about space being an issue.

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Another advantage of two-wheel drive is the fuel economy. This is a focus across the Renegade range as the 4x4 model intelligently switches to two-wheel drive when four aren't needed in order to offer the best mileage. We were getting a 35mpg average when taking the car about the country with mixed driving including high-rev off-roading. To be fair the driver before may have pushed it harder than we did, as Jeep claims the Renegade can achieve nearer to 60mpg.

One great crossover feature from traditional 4x4s is the smart start on a hill – even when your foot is removed from the brake it won't roll immediately. This is great for anyone living in a hilly area, be it city or rural.

Initial impressions

The Jeep Renegade is clearly aimed at those who want to be a bit different and go their own way. With the four-wheel drive model this is possible, both on- and off-road. For the two-wheel drive option it gives drivers the room of an SUV with the economy of a smaller car.

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We weren't bowled over by the Renegade's looks initially but after a short while we really grew to enjoy the curves and angles on the outside and the finish within. The internal smarts of the Renegade are great too, crammed with everything the modern technophile could hope for on the road.

While competition in this field is growing – there's anything from the Mazda CX-3 to the less-hench-looking Nissan Juke - we expect this 2015 Renegade to mean we'll see the Jeep name far more often on the roads of the UK. And with a starting price of £15,533 for two-wheel drive and £18,840 for 4WD, it's got a competitive edge. It's might not be a Land Rover Discovery Sport, but it's a snip of the cost.

READ: Land Rover Discovery Sport 2015 first drive: All terrain with all the comforts

Writing by Luke Edwards. Originally published on 18 March 2015.